I once heard a preacher say, “if we could see what Paul saw, we would live like He lived.”
That phrase has stuck with me all of these years, and it showed me something fundamental about my faith, my relationship with the unseen, and my love for God.
That was also a season of my life when a lot changed in my heart in terms of the motivation for how and why I called myself a Christian.
We see pretty clearly from the Scriptures that this whole created order – the timeline it’s on, it’s beginning, and it’s end – were really birthed out of one desire: God’s desire to be known. When God set the stars in the heavens, He dreamed of what it would do to a human heart when we looked up and marveled. When He loosed from a word the depths of the sea, He delighted in the idea that for centuries we would be combing the depths of mystery there. When He breathed His breath into the first man – the first of the image bearers – His heart burst with love and joy.
I think for me, my life experiences both in and out of the church painted God as a cosmic rule-keeper. I believed He existed, but disconnected my life from His in as much as I didn’t attribute any beauty, any joy, or any life to His creative heart.
“If we could see what Paul saw…”
“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus…’” – Acts 9: 3-5
It’s my opinion that the four Gospels of scripture are too short. How much more did Jesus do and say, whom did He love, and how did He love them? John says in his gospel that if all the works of Jesus had been written down, that all the books of the world couldn’t contain them.
No – the Holy Spirit gives us the four gospels not to satisfy our desire to fully know God, but to wet our appetite. The Scriptures were not given to us as religious fiction, with beginning and definitive end, the Bible is a window into relationship with the living Word.
But also in this light, we see that the Holy Spirit has ingeniously written his story in humility. Jesus Himself did not pen a single word found in the Bible with human hands, but He shines instead His light on the love of the apostles.
By juxtaposition, we now turn our eyes to the life of Paul. You see, we can infer from Paul, the countless people whose lives he touched, the power of a heart burning for one thing, and the endless suffering he endured for the sake of the Gospel, that Paul did not just encounter a bright light on the road to Damascus. He encountered a living flame of love.
“Where is your Father?” they asked. “You know my Father as little as you know me.” He replied; “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” – John 8:19
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” – John 17:3
The fundamental flaw I believe within any Church or stream of Christianity is focus. Paul, Peter, John, Martin Luther, Billy Graham, and many other heroes of the faith, I believe were transfixed on the person of Jesus. The Bible says prophetically of the second coming of Jesus that “when we see Him we will be like Him.” (1 John 3:2) No truer words can be spoken, for if we take an account of those who have seen him as He truly is, we see men with hunger for nothing else but to continue to KNOW Him. We see people unsatisfied to pontificate off the words on a page, but to fellowship with the living Word in every experience of their lives.
Our focus then can begin to shift. What do we want? A better church? Better programs? More converts? Better meetings? More attendance? No, brothers and sisters, we become people of a single focus, to know Jesus in all things. For to know Jesus, is to know His Father, and by consequence, to really know and understand ourselves. We were made to reflect God’s image in perfection, by relationship. We were made to know – and to be known.
This is why we all are in such deep need of relationships in our lives. It is our DNA to relate with one another. Even those who are completely without a construct of the Christian faith understand relationship as a necessity to human living. But truly we find the only way to love one another is to first experience the love of the Father.
Like the Apostles before us, when we make our aim singularly to know Jesus, we find every degree of problem put into perspective. Our church services, our Bible readings, our relationships – all become the context to experience Him… a looking glass by which we peer into the nature of the uncreated God. We can lay aside every other priority that captivates and divides our attention and embark on the adventure that is knowing Jesus in all things. We all were made to live lives of radical abandonment to experience the freedom that comes with an all consuming desire to live knowing who the Father is.
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”
–A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.